Sketches from Cartoonist Daniel Clowes’s Hit Graphic Novel ‘Monica’ Go On View in Paris

Galerie Martel will showcase the various materials the graphic novelist created for his latest book.

Daniel Clowes, Monica cover sketch (2023). © Daniel Clowes. Courtesy of Galerie Martel.

Daniel Clowes’s new book Monica recounts the life of its titular character from cradle to grave, but in ways so strange and sardonic that it could only come from the mind of the singular cartoonist. Typical of a Clowes joint, the graphic novel bears his signature blend of pathos and pitch-black humor, woven through with his evocative, shadowed detailing. It’s art that lends the proceedings narrative layers and an uneasy mystery, right down to the book’s otherworldly climax. “The book,” he said, “is in part about dealing with chaos.” 

After garnering raves since its release last October, Monica is now getting the gallery treatment. From January 24, Galerie Martel in Paris will stage a show of more than 30 works, featuring panels and sketches in ink and colored pencil that Clowes created for his latest release. The exhibition, Clowes’s second with the gallery, will also consist other pieces pulled from the artist’s storied oeuvre. 

Daniel Clowes self-portrait. © Daniel Clowes. Photo courtesy of Galerie Martel.

For a cartoonist who found his niche in the 1980s alternative comics space with a darkly zany vocabulary, Clowes has managed to land squarely within mainstream acceptance. He’s been showered with awards and courted by brands, his comics have been adapted for the big screen, and he’s emerged as one of America’s foremost graphic storytellers. 

Which is not to say his work has lost any of its edge: the biting humor of his early series Eightball (1989–2004) can still be located in his later works such as Ghost World (1997) and Wilson (2010), just as his narratives have grown in depth and offbeat daring, as in David Boring (2000) and Patience (2016). 

Daniel Clowes, Monica back cover sketch (2023). © Daniel Clowes. Courtesy of Galerie Martel.

In many ways, Monica marked a new creative height for Clowes—his friend, filmmaker Ari Aster, called the book the artist’s “magnum opus.” Five years in the making, the work sees Clowes visually tip his hat to genre comics, balancing tones from horror to romance as he unfurls the backstory of Monica’s birth. Color schemes throughout the book draw connections, narrative or otherwise, between its nine chapters. 

“I feel like the point of art is to express things that we don’t understand and we don’t know how to express in words,” he told NPR in 2023. 

Daniel Clowes, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron large cover sketch (2017). © Daniel Clowes. Courtesy of Galerie Martel.

Also on view at Galerie Martel is a curated selection of Clowes’s part art, notably original drawings from David Boring and Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron (1993), and previously unseen sketches for Eightball. His commissioned illustrations for the New Yorker and the Criterion Collection (for Shock Corridor and Ghost World) are included too.  

The show is only the latest to bring Clowes’s work from the shelf to the gallery. Following his first exhibition in Los Angeles in 2003, the artist most prominently was feted by the Oakland Museum of California with a 2012 retrospective that spanned more than 100 works from drawings to gouache art.  

But it’ll also be a rare outing for an artist whose dedication remains to the page. “I never thought of myself as a museum artist who’s doing work for the wall,” he told the New York Times in 2012. “For me, the book is the final result.” 

Daniel Clowes” is on view at Galerie Martel, 17 Rue Martel, Paris, France, January 24 through February 24. 


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